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Behind the Research: Ben Paxson

About the feature

Many people are involved in the remarkable range of programs, services and facilities that undergird research in the College of Agriculture. Collectively they’re integral to the college fulfilling its research mission. “Behind the Research” explores their individual roles. Each academic year, we profile six people whose work supports the College of Agriculture’s global reputation for developing innovative, multidisciplinary solutions to challenges and then putting those solutions into action. 

Ben Paxson, Academic IT Specialist, Department of Food Science

  • Responsibilities in the Food Science Pilot Laboratory combine technical expertise with specialized skills outside of traditional information technology. 
  • Has helped design, fabricate and automate many systems, such as a chlorine dioxide generation system and high-pressure processing system to study the effects on bacterial bioluminescence. 
  • Cites his interactions with faculty and staff in food science and AgIT as “what makes this job so rewarding.”   
Ben Paxson, Academic IT Specialist, Department of Food Science Ben Paxson, Academic IT Specialist, Department of Food Science

Ben Paxson credits his fellow academic IT specialists in the College of Agriculture with strengthening research in the college. “The things that we do every day help move emerging technology closer to our end users,” he explains. “At the same time we are striving to reduce duplication of effort by identifying and moving IT services centrally, which benefits us all.” 

Each IT specialist develops particular skills that their department requires, he adds. In Paxson’s case, the Department of Food Science has given him opportunities he never envisioned as a 2000 Purdue graduate. “I never would have imagined that now I would be comfortable teaching a laboratory session on aseptic processing and being involved with workshops to help industry learn more about some of these food science disciplines,” he says. 

Paxson, who grew up in Jay County, Indiana, came to Purdue to study computer technology. “I looked as education as a pathway to a career, and with Y2K looming, I knew this field would have opportunities,” he says. 

Undergraduate degree in hand, Paxson took a job at the Allen County Department of Planning Services in Fort Wayne, where he worked in geographic information systems (GIS) on projects like linking the county’s emergency 911 system and assessors’ tax database to maps. 

He was there only a year or so when an opportunity at Purdue lured him back. “I loved the community around the university,” he explains. “It’s a great place to live, and working in academia was a draw in and of itself.” Paxson started in IT at Purdue in April 2002. 

He is still here nearly 20 years later, he says, because of “a combination of the people and the flexibility of the position, and being able to work with technology to stay on the front edge and help impact research.” 

The delivery of IT services has changed dramatically since Paxson joined the university. In his first job, he worked directly for a faculty member for 10 years. Departments managed their own websites, network file storage, printing and even email, he notes. 

Centralizing IT services at the college and university levels not only eliminated duplication of services but also greatly expanded the role of academic IT specialists, Paxson says. “It meant I could work directly with faculty and staff, coming up with ideas and cost estimating IT needs for projects. It really helps working as a team now.” 

“Ben has been a great team player within the food science department,” says Senay Simsek, department head and professor of food science, and Dean’s Chair in Food Science. “Teamwork is combined commitment to overcome hurdles — providing the support and encouragement necessary to help others better themselves and succeed in their endeavors.” 

To that end, Paxson is responsible for ensuring the stability and continuity of computing resources, managing and supporting unique departmental projects and services, and administrating the department's servers.   

He also takes the IT lead on projects such as computer integrated manufacturing in the Pilot Lab, working with process automation and data acquisition. “My work in our Pilot Plant is tremendously satisfying,” he says. “It is both impactful to the department and to our industry sponsors who are looking to make their products better.” 

Paxson supports technology-based educational tools and creates systems for specific research needs. Helping faculty and graduate students involved in food safety and food chemistry, he says, has given him valuable experience in communicating and facilitating IT needs for other research projects in food science. 

 “Working with a lot of really smart people keeps things interesting, and something’s different every day,” he adds.  

It also helps Paxson stay current in his own discipline. “In the IT realm, things are constantly changing, and we need to stay at the forefront of technology,” he adds. “It’s always a chase.”

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